Blinken and Soleimani’s fingerprints

Blinken and Soleimani’s fingerprints

 Houthis earlier fired missile striking the US-owned ship, just off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. (File/AP)
Houthis earlier fired missile striking the US-owned ship, just off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. (File/AP)
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This was before the outbreak of the “Arab Spring.” The meeting was neither official nor public. A number of politicians decided to reflect on the situation in the region. The discussion reviewed the conditions in the Middle East in the light of the US army’s uprooting of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Then the participants turned to the international climate sparked by the Al-Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

One of the attendees spoke briefly about Yemen. Qassem Soleimani touched on the topic more thoroughly. He talked about the country and its strategic location in relation to Bab Al-Mandab and the Red Sea. He discussed in detail the sectarian formation in Yemen. He also pointed to the tribal structure, alliances, balance of power and the bloody experiences that this country had gone through.

Soleimani’s long and detailed intervention surprised the participating Arab politician. The Quds Force commander seemed to be speaking with precision and interest about a comprehensive file that was open on his table. Subsequent days would reveal that this interest was part of the Iranian program in the region, with all its ideological, diplomatic, political and security dimensions.

The beginnings of the Iranian intervention were not a secret to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Probably, he did not expect Tehran’s project in Yemen to reach what it has. The clever man may even have bet on his ability to benefit from the Houthis’ card in bargaining with America and the country’s neighbors. The US and British raids on Houthi positions in response to their practices in the Red Sea awakened the memory of the Arab politician who seemed pessimistic about the efforts of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken 100 days after the start of the Gaza war.

The politician ruled out that Iran would accept Israel’s attempt to break the Palestinian artery in the so-called axis of resistance. He noted that raising the banner of Jerusalem was Ayatollah Khomeini’s choice from the first moment because he believed that this option facilitated entry into Arab and Islamic societies and gave his revolution an Islamic character, even if it was Shiite in essence.

At that time, Khomeini considered that two walls were obstructing the expansion of the revolution’s presence in the region. The first was the “infidel” Baath regime in Iraq and the second was the prestige of the “Great Satan” and the threads that connected it to the regimes of the region’s countries, which, in his view, prevented their collapse.

The revolution began its work by undermining the prestige of the US when it held Americans hostage in their own country’s embassy in Tehran. After America later brought down the Iraqi wall, Soleimani devoted himself to cutting the ties that linked some countries to America, or at least weakening them.

The Red Sea crisis pushed the US to do what it wanted to avoid, which was to launch raids on Houthi positions

Ghassan Charbel

One hundred days ago, Iran did not rush to launch a wide-scale war and get involved in it. It does not want a direct confrontation with the US, which has used its weight from Day 1 to avoid the outbreak of a regional conflict. But the war actually expanded with controlled fire. The daily exchange of strikes on the Israeli-Lebanese border necessitated repeated visits by US envoy Amos Hochstein, bringing ideas for dismantling the conflict over border points. It is like a war in installments against US bases in Iraq and Syria. Then the Houthi message came more explicitly.

One hundred days ago, Hamas launched the Battle of Al-Aqsa Flood. The first reactions did not show that the operation was part of the “major strike” that pro-Iranian groups had been talking about in narrow corridors for years. A “torrent of missiles” did not rain down on Israel from several directions, as the “major strike” scenario had implied.

To date, Palestinian sources continue to confirm that some Hamas allies were informed only minutes before that something big would happen. Sources also say that Tehran was not comfortable with not being told the exact date.

Not many options were available to Hezbollah. The party was unable, by virtue of its alliances and program, to remain completely outside these developments. It was not easy for it to make the decision to engage in a wide-scale war, which Iran does not want and is more complicated in view of the difficult situation in Lebanon.

Damascus did not show enthusiasm for engaging in the war, as it must take into account many calculations, including the Russian military presence on its territory and Israel’s ability to target its army. Syria is not ready for a large scale war of this kind and the revival of its relations with Hamas, which occurred after repeated insistence from Hezbollah, does not mean that it is prepared to pay a high price in order to defend the movement or alleviate the burden of the Israeli war on it.

Thus, Hezbollah chose low-cost participation in the conflict and under a ceiling that is lower than a broad and comprehensive war.

Blinken must take into account Soleimani’s fingerprints on some maps, from the Mediterranean coast to the Red Sea

Ghassan Charbel

In parallel with the skirmishes launched by Hezbollah, Iraqi factions loyal to Iran participated in attacks aimed at pushing America to make the decision to leave the country. When Washington chose a strict response to the targeting of its bases in Iraq, the government of Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani fell into an extremely difficult position. The departure of US forces in an atmosphere of hostility would result in major economic losses for Iraq and complications regarding the issue of American weapons in the hands of its forces. But Al-Sudani’s government was eventually forced to raise the issue of the withdrawal of the “international coalition” from its territory.

Despite the criticism its absolute support for Israel has aroused in the region and the world, the Biden administration seemed relieved that the big explosion did not happen. But the Red Sea crisis pushed it to do what it wanted to avoid, which was to launch raids on Houthi positions to confirm the seriousness of its mission. The US raids raise the question of whether the exchange of strikes between America and the Houthis will constitute an additional axis in the open war that has been going on for 100 days.

Blinken is trying to arrange a formula to end the impasse. Israel was not able to resolve the war during the “grace period” and Hamas is waging a battle beyond its capacity, while parallel wars always carry the risk of expansion. Blinken’s task is more than arduous. A long war would be costly for everyone. Some of the Middle East has changed. The American minister must take into account Soleimani’s fingerprints on some maps, from the Mediterranean coast to the Red Sea.

Soleimani contributed to shaping the features of post-Saddam Iraq. He accompanied Lebanon in the 2006 war with Israel. He personally participated in convincing Vladimir Putin to intervene militarily in Syria to save Bashar Assad’s regime. His detailed talk about Yemen confirmed that the file was brought to his table long ago.

  • Ghassan Charbel is editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. X: @GhasanCharbel
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